Scouting DuPage County girls basketball

  • Downers Grove South's Kelsey Ambuehl, left, and York's Sarah Kesserling move toward a loose ball during Tuesday's game in Elmhurst.

      Downers Grove South's Kelsey Ambuehl, left, and York's Sarah Kesserling move toward a loose ball during Tuesday's game in Elmhurst. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

 
and Matt Le Cren
Daily Herald
 
Updated 11/21/2019 8:03 PM

Addison Trail

Coach: Cory Little

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Last year: 11-18, 1-11, seventh in West Suburban Gold; lost to Glenbard East in regional quarterfinal

Top players: Quiana Birmingham, so., G; Mia Johnson, jr., F/C; Demi Koulogeorgas, sr., G; Ally Severino, jr., G/F; Mary Velez, so., F/C.

Scouting report: Little takes over a young team that he expects to mold into a contender via effort and a new strategy. That will take some time, however. Still, the Blazers are scrappy and work hard. Koulogeorgas will take a leadership role on the team. "The Blazers are excited to shock everyone with an alternative style of play, as this is not a one-woman team," Little said. The team struggled the past few years and lost some key players. They will try to cut down on turnovers. "Everyone is going to contribute in every game. We are young and knowing we will have these girls for a couple of years is exciting. We want to compete every time we step on the floor, to leave no doubt when they leave the court," Little said.

Benet

Coach: Joe Kilbride.

Last year: 28-7, 7-0, first in East Suburban Catholic Conference; fourth place in Class 4A.

Top players: Ashley Berry, sr., G; Kendall Holmes, sr., G; Kendall Moriarty, jr., G; Lindsey Rogers, sr., F; Brooke Schramek, sr., F; Molly Sheehan, jr., G.

Scouting report: Just like the roster of last year's state semifinalist, this year's roster is loaded. Schramek will play at Wisconsin, Holmes at DePaul, Rogers at UIC, Moriarty at Nebraska. Sheehan, Berry, sophomore Morgan Demos and freshman Lenee Beaumont each are being recruited by Division I colleges. Allison Forney (Wisconsin-Osh Kosh)and Lexi Moriarty (Rochester) have chosen top-notch Division III schools. Holmes and Schramek will be the leaders of this group, and they're practicing like it. "They look like seniors who have been through it, who understand it. They've looked really good," Kilbride said. The Redwings again have plenty of size to go with that skill. They're also more athletic than last year's group. "We're trying to play fast again," Kilbride said. Benet will look to go nine or 10 players deep without much dropoff. They will be tested by a top-notch schedule that includes some of the best teams in the Chicago area.

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Downers Grove North

Coach: Stephan Bolt.

Last year: 22-9, 10-2, second in West Suburban Silver; lost in Class 4A regional final.

Top players: Ellie Gross, sr., G: Alexis Parker, sr., F; Kate Gross, so., G/F; Maegan Ritchie, jr., G; Ryann Wendt, so., G.

Scouting report: Ellie Gross, an all-West Suburban Silver pick last year, is primed for a big year offensively after she averaged 10 points and 4 assists as a junior. The heady senior, a coach's kid, is the kind of player a coach loves to have leading a team. She's also excellent defensively. The 5-foot-11 Parker is a big presence in the paint and a solid all-around athlete who has committed to Georgia for soccer. Kate Gross, Ellie's sister, begins her first full year on varsity after being brought up midway through last season. This team has made a name for itself on defense, and that won't change. "We expect to be very solid defensively and compete at a high level every time we step onto the floor," Bolt said. Look for the Trojans to contend for the Silver championship and be a contender for a regional title again.

Downers Grove South

Coach: Lyndsie Long.

Last year: 14-10, 8-4, third in West Suburban Gold, lost in Class 4A regional semifinal.

Top players: Erin Ganschow, sr., F; Jordin Grant, jr., G; Ashley Lang, jr., F; Cydnei Mitchell, so., G; Lily Ross, jr., G; Meghan Stapleton, jr., G.

Scouting report: This will be something of a rebuilding year for the Mustangs, who lost two key seniors to graduation last year, Holly Lueken (Colgate) and Maggie Greco. "If we're going to string games together and play well, we have to do it as a whole," Long said. "It can't be one or two people. It's got to be everyone on the same page." Stapleton will often be the Mustangs' leading scorer. She's one of two (maybe three depending on the game) returning starters, and she can hit the 3-pointer. The Mustangs don't have a lot of height this year either, so rebounding will be an issue. They will need to learn how to handle the press also. Still, Long sees the team having plenty of strengths. "They're very competitive," she said. "Especially in practice the last couple of weeks they've been competitive and willing to learn and asking questions. And I think that's a great attribute to have as a player, especially if you are new."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Fenton

Coach: Dave Mello.

Last year: 16-16, 8-6, fourth in Metro Suburban Conference; lost in Class 4A regional quarterfinal.

Top players: Kaitlyn Hoffing, fr., G; Joni Lucas, sr., F; Ashley Milano, sr., G; Becky Millard, sr., G.

Scouting report: Having set another national record with 1,767 3-pointers attempted in a season last year, the Bison will turn their focus to making a greater percentage of them. They made 291 last year, good for fourth in IHSA history, but in their third season in Mello's extremely fast-paced system, they hope to take another step forward. That will be hard considering the turnover in the roster and the move to the Upstate Eight Conference, which is comprised of bigger schools and some powerful programs. The Bison will take on the UEC with a roster that is very young. The Bison will play nine underclassmen and just three seniors in their 17-player rotation. Regardless of the challenges they face this year, the system has breathed new life in the program. The Bison won just three games in 2017-18, then won 16 last year. "From where the program was to where the program is now," Mello said, "I think the girls would take it, the parents would certainly take it and the administration would definitely take it."

Glenbard East

Coach: Nicole Miller.

Last year: 8-25, 5-13, tied for seventh in Upstate Eight Conference; lost in Class 4A regional semifinal.

Top players: Lauren Huber, jr., G; Emily Ryan, jr., F; Denise Navar, jr., F; Aubrey Wendorff, jr, F; Hannah Simek, sr., F.

Scouting report: Miller is optimistic the Rams will make strides this season and she has good reason. The 5-foot-9 Huber is a dynamic scorer who is drawing college interest after scoring 420 points as a sophomore, and this year she has a better surrounding cast that is bigger and more athletic. That includes three big post players in the 6-2 Wendorff and 6-1 Navar and Simek. Two other junior forwards, Lisa Stranski and Kendall Crackel, starred for the volleyball team. Huber will be the go-to player, but the more other players can add, the better off the Rams will be. "We've seen a lot of good things so I'm excited to see them play," Miller said. "This is the first season they've known what a summer season is like, so we got another 25 games in, so I've seen tremendous improvement from the end of last year."

Glenbard North

Coach: Stephen Wit.

Last year: 2-24, 0-14 eighth in DuKane Conference, lost in Class 4A regional quarterfinals.

Top players: Neveah King, sr., G; Chassidi Betney, sr., C; Alyssa Havard, jr., G; Olivia Kulig, jr., F; Olivia Corona, jr., G; Anna Pedraza, jr., G; Akira Lebron, jr. F.

Scouting report: Last year's results were not encouraging, but coach Wit is optimistic that the Panthers will be more competitive in the DuKane Conference this season. There are some athletic girls returning with more experience and they're coming off a strong off-season. "We have good character and an improved work ethic that could lead to a turnaround," Wit said. Betney, a strong inside presence, was lost to injury for most of last season and her return will make a difference." Wit expects King to develop as a leader and as a scorer. Havard, Corona and Kulig showed improvement in the off-season. Pedraza is a promising point guard with good court vision. "We're young and we work hard. We'll have to play smart and play together," Wit said. "We have a strong sense of team and the girls are determined to change people's view of the team with more victories."

Glenbard South

Coach: Morgan Eufrasio.

Last year: 27-8, 15-3, tied for second in the Upstate Eight Conference; second in Class 3A.

Top players: Lauren Cohen, jr., G; Rocky LaPonte, jr., G; India Lucas, sr., G; Iman Sellers, jr., G; Alex Wilharm, jr., F.

Scouting report: This season will be more of the same for Glenbard South -- with one major exception. Gone is 6-foot-2 all-state center Maggie Bair to Drake. "We're going to have to learn to play basketball in a different way without a go-to scorer every time and someone who can protect the rim," Eufrasio said. But after two consecutive trips to the state semifinals, the Raiders have only two new kids on the 10-player roster, and several of those returning have played varsity basketball for a couple of seasons. "We're shorter, by far. But we still have a lot of good role players," Eufrasio said. Cohen, Wilharm and LaPonte lead a group with a high basketball IQ and a great willingness to work. One thing that will change is Eufrasio and assistant Steve Gross are emphasizing offense a little more in practice earlier in the season, hoping to get off to a better start. The conference and nonconference schedules will present a challenge again. "I don't think we play a 3A school on our schedule," Eufrasio said.

Glenbard West

Coach: Kristi Faulkner.

Last year: 22-7, 11-1, first in West Suburban Silver; lost in Class 4A regional final.

Top players: Emma Hall, sr., G; Taylor Huff, sr., F; Renee Seaney, jr., G; Maggie Stutelberg, jr., G; Maddie Wallace, sr., G/F; Addison Yeager, sr., G/F.

Scouting report: The Hilltoppers will try to defend their conference championship with two of the best returning players around, Huff and Stutelberg. Huff, a New York University recruit, will be a force in the middle at 6-foot-2. Stutelberg and Seaney will be counted on to keep opposing defenses from collapsing onto Huff with their 3-point shooting. At 6 feet Stutelberg -- who has some mid-major Division I offers -- also adds some length to the lineup. Hall takes over at point guard looking to get Glenbard West running a little bit more, looking or more baskets in transition. Otherwise, the Glenbard West system will be very familiar. "We try to get good at what we know and try to keep working on those things," Faulkner said. One thing that's new is the Hilltoppers' tournament and shootout just after New Year's featuring other female-led programs in the area plus a couple from out of state.

Hinsdale Central

Coach: Karen Persinger.

Last year: 5-19, 2-12, sixth in West Suburban Conference Silver Division; lost in Class 4A regional quarterfinal.

Top players: Maiwen Amegadjie, sr., F; Kendall Butler, sr., G; Sarah Cernugel, sr., G; Maria Rivera, jr., F; Madison Ward, jr., G.

Scouting report: The Red Devils should be an improved team this season, with more experience and more time in Persinger's system. Though the varsity had a difficult season last year, the sophomores won 20-plus. Combine the five returning players with six new players, and Persinger sees progress. "We've got a lot of great athletes in the gym," she said. The key will be how comfortable they get with varsity play and working with each other. "It's the mental aspect of being patient with each other and learning each other's pace of play and where they're going to be on the floor and that timing aspect of the offensive side," Persinger said. All 11 on the roster should contribute, and all the starting positions are up for grabs. "It's been kind of nice at practice to have competition at every spot," Persinger said. All of that has Persinger cautiously optimistic. "We are trending in the right direction, I think," she said.

Hinsdale South

Coach: Scott Tanaka.

Last year: 15-14, 8-4, tied for third in West Suburban Gold; lost to Benet in Class 4A regional semifinal.

Top players: Erin Adams, sr., G/F; Crysta Davis, sr., G, Leila Useini, sr., F; Janae Washington, jr., G; Ellie Urbanski, jr., G; Mary Lavorato, jr., G.

Scouting report: The Hornets will have to make do without their best player, Kennedi Perkins, one of the best freshmen in the state last year. The high-scoring guard transferred to Bolingbrook. The Hornets also lost some key seniors, so this will be a much different group than they had last year. "We would like to get better each and every week," Tanaka said. "Our goal is contend for a conference championship and advance as far as possible in the playoffs. Our expectations are to get better each and every week, growing as basketball players and overall young women."

IC Catholic Prep

Coach: Todd Fisher.

Last year: 11-18, 6-6, fourth place in Metro Suburban Blue; lost to Walther Christian in Class 2A regional final.

Top players: Hannah Johnson, sr., G/F; Alia Johnson, jr., F; Claire Wagner, so., F.

Scouting report: First-year coach Fisher takes over after a lengthy and successful tenure at Walther Christian, which eliminated the Knights from the postseason last year. Many of the players from that team return, including the 5-foot-11 Wagner, who had an impressive freshman season. Two juniors, guard Frankie Chaidez and forward Grace Grady, could make immediate impacts. "As you can imagine with a new coach, new things are being installed each and every day in practice," Fisher said. "We are excited to get the season started as we have set some significant goals as a team. Strengths should be defense, rebounding, overall toughness and aggressiveness, the ability to push the ball in transition, and playing team basketball." The faster the Knights can adjust to their new coach and learn the new system, the more success they will have this season.

Lake Park

Coach: Brian Rupp.

Last year: 21-9, 7-7, fourth in DuKane Conference; lost in Class 4A sectional semifinal.

Top players: Gabi Burgess, fr., G; Ellie Helms, fr., G: Kelly Moy, sr., G; Darrione Rogers, sr., G; Emma Thorne, jr., G.

Scouting report: Any talk of the Lancers begins with Rogers, an all-state, do-everything player who was the Daily Herald DuPage County All-Area Captain a season ago. The DePaul recruit averaged 26.7 points a game and scored 40 or more four times, so she will be the focus of any defense. But Lake Park had its greatest success last year when the other Lancers had their best games, and there is good talent on this team. "We're trying to figure out how we can piece together 30 more points (on top of Rogers' contribution)," Rupp said. "If we get 30 more points on our board, it will be hard to beat us. I think we've got some pieces who can do that. What I like about it is this: a lot of people have brought their games to a different level." Rogers has improved, but so has Thorne, the Lancers' best defender who's gotten stronger in the weight room. The roster will include three freshmen, all of whom are expected to contribute. The Lancers will again have some good shooters from behind the 3-point arc. They also will be faster as a group.

Lisle

Coach: Nick Balaban.

Last year: 21-11, 7-3, third in Interstate Eight Conference; lost in Class 2A sectional semifinals.

Top players: Cassidy Allen, jr., G; Hannah Baur, jr., F; Abby Casmer, jr., G; Jenna Johnston, jr., F; Tara Kane, jr., G; Emma Rossin, jr., G; Emma Webb, jr., G.

Scouting report: Without a senior on the roster, the Lions are young but not necessarily inexperienced. They have seven or eight juniors, many of whom have varsity experience, to go with three sophomores. They also have good depth, athleticism, speed, quickness and length. And that's not all. "We've got some size now, and I think it's going to allow us to play a vareity of ways, especially defensively," Balaban said. There are three or four Lions who can knock down a 3-point shot with some consistency, and don't be surprised if point guards Kane and Webb are on the court together to run things. This team is good enough to win the new Illinois Central Eight Conference and a regional. "I'm excited to see what we're capable of doing. I think we have all the pieces," Balaban said.

Metea Valley

Coach: Keith McIntosh.

Last year: 11-18, 2-6 fourth place in DuPage Valley Conference; lost in Class 4A regional semifinals.

Top players: Nazuri Whigham, sr., G; Chloe Kurkjian, sr., F; Kelsey Barrett, sr., C; Nyla Hart, jr., G/F; Jada Samuels, jr., G/F; Paige Buranowski, sr., G; Khaliah Reid, fr., G; Raina Penttila, fr., F; Kai Pierre, sr., C; Amelia Szczesny, jr., F.

Scouting report: There's a good nucleus returning to a team that figures to finish over .500 this year and maybe compete for a conference title. "We're deep and we'll have good defense," McIntosh said. "Our challenge will be putting points on the board." Whigham and Kurkjian are all-conference candidates, while the addition of Hart, Reid and Samuels will add to the offense. Barrett is a presence on the boards who missed most of last year. The Mustangs gave up as many as 50 points only four times last year. "We play intense defense and we make the opponents earn their points," McIntosh said. "We need scorers to develop. I can see us having different leading scorers in many games."

Montini

Coach: Jason Nichols.

Last year: 30-5, 5-0, first in Girls Catholic Athletic Conference; lost in Class 4A sectional final.

Top players: Taylor Charles, so., F; Angelina Giordano, so., G; Sydney Prochaska, sr., G; Sophie Sullivan, so., G; Tatiana Thomas, so., F; Taris Thornton, jr., G.

Scouting report: Nichols said he's "cautiously optimistic" about this season. The reason for the optimism is clear: As usual he has some very talented players. The reason for the caution? "We're very, very, very young," he said. The lone senior likely to contribute is Prochaska, a Southern Illinois recruit who will be counted on for leadership. Thornton, the key junior, has some mid-major college offers herself, and Nichols hopes she is ready to become the player he believes she can be. Charles, Thomas, Sullivan and Giordano also are big-time talents who saw plenty of playing time as freshmen last year. He hopes they avoid the sophomore slump. "That thing exists just because you're still learning," he said. Thomas is healthy again after being limited by a back injury the second half of last season. Three freshmen are expected to get plenty of playing time also. "Over three or four months I'd like to hope that we'll be one of those teams in February that teams say, we don't want to play them," Nichols said.

Naperville Central

Coach: Andy Nussbaum.

Last year: 12-20, 4-4, third in DuPage Valley Conference; lost in Class 4A regional semifinal.

Top players: Katlyn Allen, sr., G; Kate Gilfillan, sr., G; Karly Maida, jr. G; Gaby Melby, jr. G; Sara Opalka, sr., F; Emily Spisak, sr., G; Lauren Umbright, sr., F.

Scouting report: With eight players returning who started at one point or another last season, the Redhawks have good experience back. "We're pretty good as far as the experience of the game goes," Nussbaum said. "Like most of last season, however, they lack height. "We're pretty optimistic," Nussbaum said. "We shoot real well. We're real unselfish. We're going to have to make up for our lack of size by being good shooters and super aggressive." Most years Nussbaum has a set starting five in mind. This year, with eight solid players, there are spots that probably will rotate from game to game. Melby, a returning All-Area player going into her third season as a starter, is set in the lineup. Opposing defenses will be sure to keep an eye on her. But Spisak hit a couple of game-winning shots last year, Maida was all-conference and sophomore guard Aditi Prasad led the team in 3-point shooting percentage.

Naperville North

Coach: Erin Colletti.

Last year: 17-10, 8-0, first in DuPage Valley Conference; lost in a Class 4A regional semifinal.

Top players: Sarah Crossett, so., F; Greta Kampschroeder, jr., G/F; Nikki Kwilosz, sr., G; Sarah Lockridge, sr., F; Kara Rivard, jr., G; Jada Wilmington, sr., C.

Scouting report: Last season was a lot of fun for the Huskies. This season could be an absolute blast. "Everything is going awesome," said Colletti, who takes over the varsity after nine years at the lower levels. Of course any team with Kampschroeder, the best junior in the state, has reason to be excited. She can play every position and do just about everything on the court; few high school kids pass like she can. But the players around Kampschroeder have improved also. They are more likely than ever to be involved in travel ball of some kind, and it shows. "They are ballers," said Colletti, adding, "I felt in the past we haven't had as many true basketball players." Kwilosz is going full throttle after an ACL tear ended last season early. Rivard is expected back in January from a summer ACL tear. Both are great leaders who love the game and love to work at it. Wilmington improved a lot in the off-season, as did Crossett, who has developed the confidence and skills to take some pressure off Kampschroeder.

Neuqua Valley

Coach: Mike Williams.

Last year: 13-14, 4-4 third place in DuPage Valley Conference, lost in Class 4A regional semifinals.

Top players: Claudia Gallegos, jr., F; Kara Vonnahme, sr., G; Ellie Wisner, jr., G; Jessica Sun, jr., G; Jada Devine, jr., F; Tia Poulakidas, fr., F; Anja Kelly, fr., F.

Scouting report: This should be the year the Wildcats return to the top rung of the DVC after several uncharacteristic ordinary years. The team returns its entire starting lineup and it has size, speed, ability and versatility in the top seven girls who rank with the best in the area. Williams believes his Wildcats can win 20 games and do well in the playoffs. Gallegos can play at the next level, Vonnahme is a vocal leader, Wisner and Sun are strong shooters. Devine is a power forward and the best athlete on the team. Freshmen Poulakidas and Kelly provide youth, size and great athletic ability. "We'll play an up-tempo game," Williams said. "But if we keep improving and one or two more kids develop off the bench, we can play even faster."

St. Francis

Coach: Sandy DeCraene.

Last year: 12-20, 3-8 in Metro Conference, lost in Class 3A regional semifinals.

Top players: Kate Chaparro, jr., G; Maggie Culver, jr., F; Ashley Sullivan, sr., G; Madeleine Fasana, sr., G; Ella McDonald, so, G/F; Katie Anne DeCraene, so., G; Lauren Bruce, so., F.

Scouting report: This is a young team, but coach DeGraene is confident she's got the personnel to improve on last year. "We have more fundamentally sound players with a variety of specialties. Many play multiple positions. It's exciting to see what they can do when they work together," she said. Culver is a transfer who can shoot from distance as can Sullivan. The undersized Fasana is tough on the boards. The coach said the team's court awareness is one area of marked improvement along with a general upgrading of the skill level. Chaparro is a leader and the offensive force whom opponents will have to stop, but the other girls should find their roles early.

Timothy Christian

Coach: Jill Groenewold.

Last year: 22-6, 12-2, tied for first in Metro Suburban Conference; lost in Class 2A sectional semifinal.

Top players: Sureya Alex, jr., G; Sarah Carstensen, jr., F; Greta Hoogstra, jr., C; Hannah Schuringa, jr., F.

Scouting report: The good news is Timothy Christian had a lot of success this fall in girls cross country and volleyball. The bad news is that because those teams just finished their seasons, the girls coming out for basketball missed the first week of practice. "In a small school you share athletes. It's just how it is," said Groenewold, who is just taking over the program. "I've seen enough of them I think to know what we're doing," he said. Groenewold leads a team that had success last year and has some talented and tall players returning this year. Carstensen and Schuringa are among the five 6-foot players on the team, and both played key roles last year. Alex is the point guard who makes the team go. They will be counted on for leadership. Groenewold also wants to improve the team's defensive intensity by playing more man-to-man defense. She also hopes to see more consistent scoring and better rebounding. Look for a couple of freshmen to play important roles also.

Waubonsie Valley

Coach: Brett Love.

Last year: 14-16 overall, 4-4 tied for third in DuPage Valley Conference; lost in Class 4A regional final.

Top players: Grace Setter, sr., C; Ahniya Melton, sr., F; Lauren McKnight, jr., G; Halle Williams, sr., F; Mykah Berkompas, jr., G; Kayla White, jr., G; Amari Banks, so., G; Grace Abrams, so., G; Taylor Curry, fr., G.

Scouting report: After what coach Love called a "learning year," the Warriors have some talent and depth and seem poised to deliver more wins this season. Setter, a soccer player headed to UIC, is a dominating post player who blocked 9 shots in one game last year. And she's got a formidable supporting cast that includes big scorer and assist leader McKnight, all-around forward Melton, transfer 3-point marksman Williams and Berkompas, a multitalented offensive weapon. And there's depth coming off the bench in the form of some talented youngsters. The Warriors are quick, fundamentally sound and determined to win that regional title that eluded them last season. "We learned a lot last year," Love said. "We'll have no problem scoring this year. We'll play team defense. The older kids are giving us good leadership. We're optimistic that we can be successful."

Westmont

Coach: Julie Jurasits.

Last year: 3-15, 2-7, ninth in Interstate Eight Conference; lost to Lisle in Class 2A regional final.

Top players: Megan Thompson, jr., G/F; Diellza Dalipi, fr., C; Jillian MacKinnon, fr., G; Tori Behrens, sr., G/F; Raven Basit, so., G; Jordan Karesh, so., G/F.

Scouting report: First-year coach Jurasits, 23, takes over a team still struggling with numbers. The program has just 15 players, though that is up from 11 last year. "Unfortunately, we do not have enough girls in the program for a freshmen, sophomore or JV team, therefore, we are all combined on one level," Jurasits said. "Because of this, we are very young and inexperienced team as some girls are trying sports or the game of basketball for the first time. It has definitely been a learning experience for us all thus far, but we have seen so much progress over the last few weeks, and we are very excited to see how much they grow throughout this season and over the years." The Sentinels do return their leading scorer and rebounder, Thompson, a talented three-sport athlete. Jurasits thinks two of the freshmen, point guard MacKinnon and center Dalipi, will eventually become solid leaders.

West Chicago

Coach: Mark Fitzgerald

Last year: 1-28, 1-16, last place in Upstate Eight Conference, lost Class 4A regional quarterfinals.

Top players: Shailee Patel, jr., G; Shelby Steward, sr., F; Sadie Obenauwer, sr., F; Caroline Draper, sr., G; Emily Toran, so., G; Sydney Radke, so., G/F; Isalla Perez, sr., G; Morgan Nesemeier, jr., G.

Scouting report: "The kids are focused on putting last year behind us and they're working hard to build a new image," coach Fitzgerald said. The Wildcats, who played with a short bench last year, were in many games early but just ran out of gas. While it's an uphill battle this year's playing rotation is taking shape. The coach calls Patel one of the top guards in the conference, and he's counting on others to give her support. "She's a fine ballhandler and shooter and she can take it to the hoop," he said. The Wildcats are not that tall, but they're athletic. "We'll mix it up with several defensive looks, and we'll have some depth that we didn't have last year," Fitzgerald said. Patel, Steward and Obenauwer form the nucleus, but the coach said to keep an eye on Draper, a quick guard who can run the offense.

Wheaton Academy

Coach: Erin Carwell.

Last year: 9-17, 6-8 in the Metro Suburban Conference Red Division, lost Class 3A regional quarterfinals.

Top players: Kelly Bickhart, jr., F; Jerilyn Blackmon, jr., G; Kelsey Bowling, jr., G; Payton Collins, jr., G; Mia Cox, sr., G; Shawna Gum, sr., F; Brooke Hermes, jr., G; Imani Hillmer, sr., G; Britta Swoboda, sr., F; Molly Venhuizen, jr., F.

Scouting report: The Warriors return an all-conference player in Hillmer, a senior guard who can do a little bit of everything for them. She averaged 8.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.7 steals a game a season ago. She scored in double figures eight times. The schedule is solid but not unreasonable with Class 2A and Class 3A teams predominating.

Wheaton North

Coach: Dave Eaton.

Last year: 20-7, 10-4, second in DuKane Conference; lost in Class 4A regional final.

Top players: Rachel Brady, sr., G; Caroline Garner, sr., G; Ellie Hubbard, jr., G; Claire Hyde, so., G; Ella Kocher, jr., G; Julia Simon, jr., G.

Scouting report: Last year Wheaton North often put an all-underclass lineup on the floor. "That's probably going to happen again this year too," Eaton said. In fact this year's team might be even younger than last year's. However, the Falcons have four seniors on the roster, and they are picking up the leadership mantle and running with it, "which really makes my job a heck of a lot easier," Eaton said. They are reminding their younger teammates of Wheaton North's standards at practice and living up to them. During games the Falcons could go up to a dozen players deep during games on a regular basis, but the starting lineup isn't set. "Every day at practice it's been fun because there's a lot of competing going on," Eaton said. While there are some major-college recruits on the team, they all play other sports, not basketball. Instead of one player to lean on for scoring, the Falcons expect to be well-balanced. "I think that's actually the strengh of our team that we don't need just one," Eaton said.

WW South

Coach: Rob Kroehnke.

Last year: 22-9, 11-3, first in the DuKane Conference; lost in the Class 4A supersectional.

Top players: Carly Briggs, sr., G; Katie Kroehnke, jr., F; Lily Huntzinger, so., F; Mia McCoyd, jr., G; Caitlin Shaughnessy, sr., G.

Scouting report: The Tigers are almost completely starting over after losing most of their scoring and a whole lot of key minutes to graduation. They will be hindered because Briggs and Huntzinger got a late start with basketball due to the volleyball team's run to the state championship match. The younger Kroehnke missed some practice time due to a bad back but also will be counted on by her coach/father after being a key substitute last year. Beyond that a lot of players will be learning on the fly. Just don't count them out. There is good talent there, and coach Kroehnke always seems to get his teams in a good place by season's end after a slow start. "All four levels won conference. So we've got players. We just have to figure out what to do with them. And that takes time," he said. The Tigers, as usual, will be tested with their usual tough schedule, in the DuKane Conference and nonconference games. "That gets us ready for the playoffs," coach Kroehnke said.

Willowbrook

Coach: Terry Harrell.

Last year: 20-11, 10-2, tied for first in West Suburban Conference Gold Division; lost in Class 4A regional semifinal.

Top players: Stephanie Dasbach, jr., F; K'aliyah Herron, jr., G; Annemarie Knudtson, sr., G; Olivia Sobieszcyk, jr., F.

Scouting report: The Warriors are eager to build on last season's success. Dasbach made a name for herself this off-season as a post player to watch in the area. Herron expanded her game also, especially her ability to hit the 3-point shot. "We're expecing a lot out of those two this year," Harrell said. One piece of bad news was the season-ending knee injury this fall to guard Grace Tumilty. "That really hurt," Harrell said. "She carried a lot of the load for us in terms of leadership for us last year. ... I don't expect to replace her, but I do expect us to step up as a team and get what we need from other players this season." Tumilty also filled a lot of minutes. Look for Knudtson to take over at the point. The Warriors some key players back late from fall sports, causing them to miss the start of practice, so a slow start is possible. "It will take a little time to get that chemistry together," Harrell said.

York

Coach: Brandon Collings.

Last year: 18-13, 7-5, third in West Suburban Conference Silver Division; lost in Class 4A regional final.

Top players: Sydney Fuglsang, sr., G; Megan Juneman, jr., F; Kaitlyn Kjome, jr., G/F; Sara Krissinger, sr., G; Sydney Molis, jr., G/F; Amaya Rufus, jr., G; Carley Schwartz, sr., G.

Scouting report: Collings is enjoying having an experienced team on the floor this season. Eight players return, including the five who started most games a year ago, though Juneman will miss the first month with an ankle injury. "I feel like we're more prepared for the first game than we've ever been, which is a nice feeling, not having to learn everything from scratch," Collings said. That has the Dukes thinking about winning a conference title and a regional title. Rufus is a newcomer, but she's looked good so far. "Rufus she may be the best athlete on the floor the majority of the games we play," Collings said, calling her the best on-ball defender he's coached. Fuglsang will push the pace more this year. Molis is a returning all-conference player and one of three 6-footers in the rotation. Krissinger was the Dukes' leading scorer and rebounder a year ago, and now she's healthy.

-- Orrin Schwarz, Neil Shalin, Matt Le Cren

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